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State of the City: Challenging and changing says mayor

| January 12, 2006 11:00 PM

By ROGER MORRIS Western News Publisher

The state of the City of Libby is both challenging and changing, reported Mayor Tony Berget in his annual report delivered to local fraternal groups and the monthly luncheon of the Libby Area Chamber of Commerce.

"The coming years will be challenging for us," said the mayor, who is beginning his third term in office. "The coming years will be bring new challenges for us and it's both exciting and scary."

Growth and development have come to the city and are threatening to change the city boundaries, he said.

During the past year there was $729,093 in residential construction within the city on nine new homes and two shops. The city issued 44 building permits and collected $18,367 in fees on those permits, Berget noted.

The total valuation for new construction within the city amounts to $1.8 million.

"This is really something for the City of Libby," he said.

In addition, the city completed the Johnston's Acres water and sewer project, which cost $1.9 million after $105,638 in change orders.

While explaining the project, which involved a several square-block area on the south side of the city, Berget held up water pipe samples replaced from that area. One six-inch section of pipe looked like "Swiss cheese" it was so peppered with rusted-out holes. Another one-inch line was so clogged, it was barely open but it had served several homes with service lines attached to it.

"Johnston's Acres is like a head water area for all the city water mains being right below the water plant," Berget said, explaining its significance. "It helps the flow for the whole city."

And streets throughout that neighborhood were repaved, with some widened.

"It's kind of interesting to go up there and see what it's done to traffic in that area," Berget said. "It's helped spread traffic out."

Because of the enormity of the project, the city was unable to do much water main work elsewhere in the city, he continued. But in 2006, he expects city crews to continue the annual effort to upgrade degrading steel mains with newer synthetic pipe.

He said the retirement of John Knutson was a big loss to the city water department.

"He opened our eyes and the council's to the water main problem," Berget said. "He pushed to get a regular replacement program in place for the city."

The city annexed in a 61-lot subdivision on 19 acres off Hamann Avenue last summer and another subdivision is being planned further west on the old LP mill site for which the developer is requesting sewer and water services from the city. Combined with the development proposed around the back nine for the Cabinet View Country Club "we're looking at the top end of sewer capacity," the mayor said.

However, the city is discussing with the Port Authority the possibility of taking over management of the sewer lagoons at the old Stimson mill site, which could expand the city's ability to provide sewer services to properties south along U.S. Highway 2.

"It's always a challenge," Berget said.

"Everyone who is on city water, we're going to try to bring them into the city over the next bunch of years," the mayor said. "We're going to use planning and we will let people know in advance. We want to work together on this and it will take many years."

The city recently formed a planning board with a diverse group of people appointed to serve.

"We've got some good people on it," Berget said. "We were looking at some planning maps from the early 70's and it says on the map we needed to purchase the Central School and take down the building.

"As things change they seem to stay the same," he said, referring to recent efforts to tear down and save the old Libby High School.

The old planning documents call for changes downtown similar to what is proposed by Libby Revitalization Inc., he said.

"A lot of people have said to not piecemeal it (the downtown plan)," Berget said. "But we only have so much money and that's the way I see it going."

"It's estimated to cost $8 million to do the whole project,' he continued. "We don't have $4 million. The whole city budget is just over $2 million."

And the city only collects $297,500 in property tax, he said.

In the coming year, the mayor expects to see some water mains replaced and streets repairs, park work continuing as volunteer groups step forward and adopt green spaces and more stop signs considered as the city creates through streets to ease traffic on U.S. Highway 2 and California Avenue.

"It always seems like emergencies want to drag you in different directions," the mayor said. "But we try to weigh what's best to do."